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Gentle readers, you have not tended to become gentle writers as well, and the advice-granting side of my venture has suffered. I can only assume that a) my authoritative persona is intimidating or b) your situation is so dire you realize no advice would be of any use.

At any rate, since you have disappointed me (as should only have been expected, blah, blah, blah), I have decided to be resourceful and purloin the letters of others.

Starting today, I will be posting responses to requests for advice addressed to Carolyn Hax, advice columnist for The Washington Post, which I believe is a newspaper from Washington. If you find decent questions elsewhere, send them to me, as long as they're not filthy. This is a family site. Here goes:


Last week I mentioned to my on-again off-again boyfriend that I considered getting tested for STDs while we were apart. (We broke up for about two months; I thought it was completely over and testing seemed wise, if a bit late in the process.) His reaction was very defensive and angry. He said it made him feel like I was accusing him of being unfaithful, having a disease, etc., which I was not. The reason I was considering it was two of my overly paranoid friends kept encouraging me to, and I felt like it was a generally beneficial thing to do. Should I be concerned about his reaction? I haven't been with anyone besides him while we have been on or off.


D.C.

Dear D.C.: I can only assume "D.C." stands for "Deluded Completely", as your letter is so full of evasions and self-protective contrivances I can only conclude you were drunk.

Your "overly paranoid" friends are the ones you should be dating. Your boyfriend's behaviour can only have one sinister explanation: he is for some unknowable reason defensive and angry. Or he has an unusual understanding of what sexually transmitted diseases are and believes his lumbago to have been caused by close hugging. Either way, is this the man for you? Why DID you break up for those two months? Was it because you began to think his admiration for Jersey Shore's "The Situation" was overly intense and insistent?

Ditch this cad, D.C., but remember that your next lover will betray you.
                          
                            - The Catastrophizer

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

 
 
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Years ago, I read, in a book I can no longer remember the name of, that hundreds of years ago (or so) in Egypt, it was culturally verboten to compliment someone else's child. Instead of saying: "Oh, what a beautiful baby! How adorable! Not at all ugly or shriveled!" one would exclaim: "My GOD, what a dismally unattractive child! I sympathize with you for having to look at such a hideous boil for the rest of its life!"

Why, you probably aren't but I will pretend you are wondering, would friends and strangers subject a child who might well be ugly but still not deserving of such treatment to such treatment?

Because complimenting a child, according to my specialist-level understanding of olden days Egyptian culture, would draw the malevolent eyes of some malevolent gods upon him or her. Someone who is high will be brought low; someone who is already low can only go up (and then down again, inevitably).

This haunting, yet exhaustively informative tale should inform your future, catastrophytes. If you are feeling peppy, immediate cleanse the palate with some wrenching fear, because clearly that enthusiasm will only bring disaster upon you. You do not have to believe in malevolent gods, only the general malevolence of life. 

But remember, though, that avoiding a sense of well-being will not help you, either. As life's malevolence is general and disinterested (so it's not really malevolence, per se, but I enjoy the meatiness of that word and so will use it despite its total inappropriateness), you can be struck by almost laughably unfortunate misfortune when you've already been punched in the neck by life. 

So did their rhetorical cunning help the Egyptians, or more to the point, their babies? Probably not. Because as I've already said, life can smite you terribly at random times, and not just when you're lookin' good.

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.


 
 
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When should you introduce your child to catastrophizing? Is there a "right time"? Can a young brain effectively contend with the complexities of this dark art? 

Dither no longer: It's never too early to learn how to catastrophize.

Children are like sponges. Selfish, vicious sponges. They are poised to soak up the fruits of your own knowledge of catastrophizing. My understanding is that sponges soak up fruit. Amazing creatures.

Their attitude and environment should already incline them toward catastrophizing. They can't have more treats. They can't not eat disgusting foods forced on them by their parents. They can't wake their parents up quickly enough during the night. Once they reach school age, they'll almost immediately either become a bully, in which case they'll be preoccupied with the flaws of others, or a bully's victim, in which case they'll be preoccupied with their own flaws. 

All it takes to rear a catastrophizer, really, is a firm hand and a consistently negative attitude. "Is that a blemish? Oh, my mistake, I forgot you had a disfiguring birthmark there." "You did well on this multiplication test! There are so many professions you'll be able to choose from and be disappointed with!" "You failed your multiplication test! Not that it matters. You'll end up working in an office and feeling as though your talents are underutilized no matter what you score on some totally inconsequential quiz."

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"Your teacher has THAT on her wall? What kind of educator finds inspiration in the hardships of an adorable cat? That cat is in TROUBLE, damn it! I think it would prefer a hand down to a totally useless piece of motivational advice!"

Whatever your concerns about catastrophic child-rearing, take heart: even if you somehow fail to instill in your child an affinity for catastrophizing, life will. 



Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.


 
 
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In the last post, I discussed once again the perils of interpersonal relationships. But what of strictly personal relations of the purely cerebral variety? 

It's not just other people you shouldn't trust. You should never trust yourself.

I don't mean to imply that you are or will be dishonest or degrading, degenerate or doltish, only that you'll never really know. Some well-meaning
upbeats would say: "If you'll never really know, why worry about it?" If you never worry about it, I say to them, you are doomed to be an upbeat and therefore barred from the more exclusive parties and welcome only at mountain-biking expeditions.

It's not just other people who hide things from you; it's also you who hide things from you. The problem is, even if you figure out what you're hiding from yourself, you might never know why.

Take this entirely fictional scenario, for example: you hate your job. You find it unbearable. You hate everyone there. You hate yourself because of it and understand why everyone else there might hate you. But why?

Maybe you've always been a little bit lazy. You never liked your summer jobs. In fact, you've never liked work of any kind. You've always preferred watching hour-long crime dramas and "journaling." 

Also, maybe you're inclined to exaggerate. Maybe your job isn't all that awful. Maybe you just dramatize situations to get attention or to prove that just because you have a totally sucky job doesn't mean you're incapable of telling a decent story. So maybe it's not totally sucky at all, in which case you have nothing to compensate for except for your own lack of self-discipline...

Maybe this job actually presents you with an exciting and honourable challenge and you're terrified of failing. In which case this job represents the pinnacle of all you could achieve and you'll never get anything better or more satisfying. So you have to work out whether you're in fact afraid of succeeding at the Best Thing That's Ever Happened to You.

Or, finally, there's the possibility that your job sucks. That everyone there sucks. And that everyone there really does hate you. You're not rationalizing anything away. In fact, worrying that you're actually happy there and can't accept it is actually a means of keeping you there even though you hate it. Because you're afraid you'll hate you next job even more? Absolutely. And you're probably right. Or are you?



 
Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.

POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.


 
 
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Beware, gentle catastrophyte. Actually, that sentence could and should stand on its own, but I would like to use it now to lead into another topic: thinking about death can swallow up so many good catastrophizing hours that you can forget to contemplate more immediate living disasters. 

Consider interpersonal relationships once again. I make a point of regularly identifying, enumerating, and then brooding upon all of the flaws within myself. And therein lies the problem. It is possible I have irritating, off-putting, frankly repulsive characteristics of which I am unaware.

Those personal defects of which I remain ignorant are very likely obvious to those around me, indeed have beyond any doubt been discussed by those around me when I am not present. Perhaps at first my faults were seen as mere quirks; day by day, however, they became more conspicuous, more intrusive. 


Most friends, wary of conflict, will not address the issue immediately, will perhaps never confront it. In that case, you will never be told how and to what degree you are irritating or offensive. Secretly, your friends will pull back from you, your relationships forever blighted by the tendencies you are blind to in yourself.
 
Cultivating paranoia regarding the drawbacks other people perceive in their friendships with you leads to a dizzying array of catastrophizing opportunities. Each time you sit down with a friend, remain feverishly aware of your words, your actions, your gestures. Any one of them, even the one you find the most innocuous, could be the thing about you that bothers them the most. And for all you know, that thing has been bothering them more and more, has become to them totally unbearable. Any next moment could be the moment they decide to caution you about your behaviour or sever their connection to you. 

And no matter how much you have brooded, how much you have agonized, about yourself and your behaviour in the world, you could not possibly have anticipated the straw in you that broke the camel of your friendship.

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided 
HERE
. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.

 
 
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Today we will discuss the manner in which watching films can instruct catastrophytes in the art of cultivating fearful anticipation.

You know The Moment Before. A woman comes home from work. She drops her keys on the table. She changes into more comfortable clothes and starts preparing dinner. LITTLE DOES SHE KNOW (actually, that's another possible name for what I'm talking about: LITTLE DID THEY KNOW) that in her closet, determined and evil, is a psychotic killer. But WE know. The audience knows. We know that there is someone waiting, lurking, planning. And we know that she has absolutely no idea what life has in store for her. 

There is another kind of Moment Before that has more to do with sudden and unexpected tragedy than it does with a psychotic individual bent on murder. A family sits down together at dinner. They are laughing, making fun of one another, waiting for the older brother to get there. They make fun of him, too, because they are a relaxed and happy family who know how to have a little fun. Then there is a knock on the door, the policeman at the door, the horror on their faces, etc... The audience knows what is going to happen, either because the film has cut to scenes of the older brother driving on a slick, icy road, or because the film has been marketed as a tear-jerker primarily to female movie-goers . 

Watch as many of these kinds of film as is possible, eager catastrophyte. If you watch enough of them, and watch them in a responsive enough state, your life will be forever changed. Terribly, wonderfully changed. 

Every time you get home, take off your shoes, throw your keys on the table, you will suspect that there is someone in your closet. 

Every time you have a delightful meal with your family (which should be an impossibility, because your constant catastrophizing should be a blight on all such get-togethers), even if you have no older brother, you should be waiting for The Phone Call. Or the Knock on the Door. Anything really that sounds as though it could begin with capital letters. 

If you learn to dread The Moment Before, you will in effect become both the character in one of these films (because you are the one who will be attacked and/or emotionally devastated) and the viewer of one of these films (because you, like the viewer, possess the knowledge that an attack and/or emotionally devastating revelation is imminent).

You will never arrive home or eat a meal the same way again. 

Knowing that something is about to happen changes this from a LITTLE DID I KNOW moment to a I TOTALLY DID KNOW moment, which will be something to hold on to when that man bursts from the closet or the knock comes on your door.
Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.


 
 
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If death were an encounter with an aquatic creature, which one would it be? I tend to think it would have something to do with a member of the cephalopod family, but for the purposes of this post, I am providing myself and you with only two choices: shark or dolphin.

I'm not going to do anything original or creative with these options. As such, the shark is the Bad (BLOOD IN THE WATER) One, and the Dolphin is the Good ("Pardon me, but does your ship need saving?") One.

So which one will you meet when death Comes For You? Obviously, it depends on whom you're going about asking. Those without belief will unerringly go for the shark. It's vicious. It's unerring. It's kind of cool. It will eat you without compunction and then go off to find a momentarily unguarded cephalopod and eat that as well. When death is an encounter with a shark, it means nothingness, extinction, no one being able to hear you scream if you were able to scream anymore which you emphatically are not.

And then you have the dolphin. Ah, the dolphin. Super-intelligent, but somehow not cool because of all the tween girls and "spiritual" adults with dolphin tattoos and necklaces. The dolphin death people are those with a belief in some kind of benevolent post-death experience. You run into the dolphin (death, in this analogy - follow closely, won't you?) and it greets you with smiles (really not a smile, just a physiological characteristic, but in this analogy, it's a smile) and friendly guidance. "Come with me," it says. "I'm like the boats at the end of Lord of the Rings. I will take you to another country. I will not eat you up like that son of a bitch Shark."


So which death scenario is correct? Do we believe in the cool, sharky atheists, or the friendly pious dolphins?

I believe in neither. Because both are based on some kind of faith. If we have a problem in mathematics, we can go and see the best mathematician and he (field still largely dominated by men, alas) will either give you the answer or tell you to get the hell out of his cramped bungalow. Ditto business (except for a far larger house)...English literature (although all answers will be provisional and totally unhelpful)...medicine (actually, still many advances to be made, but my point is that advances CAN be made)...but have a question about death, and where can you go? Whom can you ask? 

"Oh, see a priest," someone would undoubtedly say. And the priest would tell you what he (field still largely dominated by men) really BELIEVES will happen. "Oh, see an atheist with a book on the New York Times bestseller list," someone else would undoubtedly say. And the atheist would tell you what he (it's either Hitchens or Dawkins) really BELIEVES will happen. They don't know anything. Both belief systems are BELIEF systems. There is not an expert in the world who can give you any real insight into death. The smartest people who have ever lived would be unable to help us because they are either alive and therefore cannot research the subject, or they are dead and can't publish the research. 

So choose: shark or dolphin. You have a 50/50 chance of being something close to correct. Or do what I do and choose neither. That way, you can spend the rest of your life haunted by your own ignorance and the malign mysteries of the world. 

Send the Catastrophizer your requests for advice and/or rationalizations using the form conveniently provided HERE. I will publish my responses on the THE CATASTROPHIZER page.


POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.


 
 
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I am going to include a whole, unexpurgated poem below (but in tiny font, so that it seems slightly less important than my writing and so that it doesn't make this post look excessively long), both because it helps to establish my intellectual credibility and because it's the complete darn poem that scares me so much. Here it is:

Aubade - Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.


The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not used, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never:
But at the total emptiness forever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
that this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no-one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Allow me to summarize the poem: we are all going to die. Everyone claims to know this, but if everyone really knew this, wouldn't everyone be rushing about, grabbing everyone else by the shoulders and crying: "Oh my God, we're all going to die!"

We spend so much time worrying about ways in which we can die prematurely. What if we are trapped on this sinking ship? What if we become inside-tummy-friends with that peckish shark? What if this monorail is unstable? We concentrate so much on potentially avoidable disasters that we forget that even if we escape that ship, out-swim that shark (highly unlikely, by the way), travel safely on that monorail, we are headed for death nonetheless.

Have you seen
Up? Don't. It's one of the most genuinely wrenching films ever made. In it, and this is in the first five minutes so I'm not really giving that much away, two people who love one another manage to avoid dying "too soon", spend a great deal of time together, and love one another faithfully and truly for many years. Until they are very old. What happens when we are old? Even if we managed to sidestep the scourge of the flesh-eating disease in our youth? We die. So death happens to one member of this couple, and do you think it's perfectly fine because they are old and have had "good lives"? No. This is one of the few films that depicts a romance between people who are now old, and it indicates that loss doesn't get any easier. 

Now I feel low. But that's how I felt when I began this, so I suppose I shouldn't be astonished. But wait...did I mention that Up also features a genuinely adorable dog? Who talks like a person? That's something.
POLITE DISCLAIMER: This site is intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are not entertained, fair enough.